Tony Stewart isn't only favorite at Indianapolis race

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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

It's Indianapolis race weekend, NASCAR style, so all eyes are focused on Tony Stewart. We know all about his love of Indy, plus he is basically driving a Hendrick Motorsports car, which has been the strongest this year. Don't forget that Stewart's was one of the last teams at a recent test to check out the new tire Goodyear is taking to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and Stewart has already put his stamp of approval on the new tire combination.
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If there were ever a race for Stewart to circle on his calendar every year, this would be the one. He just wants it that bad. For Tony, winning at Indy would mean the world to him, especially while his own team is carrying four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt's number 14 on the side. I can't help but see Stewart as the cat you will have to take it away from this weekend. But let's also not lose sight of the rest of the field. This year in sports is the year of comebacks for veterans. Look at Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, or how close Tom Watson came to winning the Open Championship in Scotland last weekend. Naturally, in NASCAR you need to look no further than 50-year-old Mark Martin. With four wins and three poles already under his belt, maybe this is the year he can put it all together and win the Sprint Cup championship. Martin has experience on his side, and right now he has all the momentum, too. Not only would it be huge for him to win Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it could carry him all the way to the 2009 championship. After all, 7 of the past 11 winners at Indy have gone onto win the championship. That being said, I see the stage being set for a classic battle on Sunday. Jeff Gordon is a lot like Tony: To him, winning at Indy would be just like winning the Daytona 500. Also, don't expect defending race winner and three-time champion Jimmie Johnson to roll over and play dead. Carl Edwards needs to break out of his slump, too — and trust me, he would love to do it at Indy. Juan Pablo Montoya is another one to watch this weekend. He has won at Indy in an open-wheel car before, and he just keeps getting better every week in his stock car. His owner, Chip Ganassi, isn't going to spare anything when it comes to Indy. Plus, you can't talk about Indy without mentioning The Captain — Roger Penske. The battlefield is really being set for the top 12 guys to lock it up as we set off into the second half of our season. Like when we kick off the season in February at Daytona, I really feel like everybody needs to come out of Indy with a strong run, because it will set the tone for the rest of the season in most cases. I think people like David Reutimann will have a good run this weekend. The same can be said for his teammate Marcos Ambrose.
Plain and simple, all the competition should be stout. Many teams told me during the break last week that they feel something special for Indy. Everybody has Indy marked on their calendars the way they do with the Daytona 500. This weekend is like a stepping-off point to showcase what they have been working on, so it's going to be a very intense weekend — and it sure going to be fun to watch as a fan. Look for the speeds to be quicker — and obviously, after last year's debacle, look for the racing to be a lot more intense. I think you will particularly see that intensity in the guys who know they are solidly in the top 12, and especially in the guys in the top 5, who have the luxury of being able to go all out this weekend. The best way to sum it up: "Let the big dog eat." And that just plays right into Tony Stewart's hands.

FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW's three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

For autographed copies of Jeff Hammond's book "Real Men Work in the Pits" plus magnets, hats and more, check out

For photos and appearances, visit Jeff's Web site

Tagged: David Reutimann, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin

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